Adventures in Offline Buying

The trip to the mall was only a warm-up for the main event.

This year, during a season that is sacred to many, I committed an unspeakable heresy—at least as far as e-commerce orthodoxy is concerned—I purchased no presents online.

For several years, I bought more and more gifts on the Web. Then something happened. Maybe it was a midlife crisis, the dot-com bust or maybe I just wanted to get out of the house.

I went to the mall.

The cool thing about the mall is you get ideas for gifts just from looking at stuff. You dont need a highly sophisticated search engine to make bad guesses as to what you might be interested in. And you can check out the Victorias Secret storefront without creating an item in your history file and leaving a cookie.

But my trip to the mall was only a warm-up for the main event—buying theater tickets. While online ticket purchases can save time, I hate the handling charges and transaction fees. Why, after all, should a process thats been automated by IT cost more? And I have never felt certain I was getting the best seats available. And dont even talk to me about dialing the 800-number for "human" interaction.

So I braved Boston weather and Boston traffic to go to the downtown theaters to purchase tickets in person. What a revelation! No line and an at-least-somewhat-friendly person behind the window. I was able to discuss whether to buy an expensive orchestra seat or a less expensive, but very good, seat in the center balcony. I didnt have to type my credit card information into the system, and best of all, I actually paid the face value of the ticket with nary a surcharge! I did have to pay a modest sum to park my car, and I did have to take a brisk walk to and from the car. But I like walks. It took a little more time, but it was a real-world adventure that broke up the monotony of sitting in front of a PC all day. Holy Clifford Stoll!

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